Big Tech will only get bigger from here. Will you let it continue to lead you, or will you take back control of your life?
Bui Phu Chau
I lead two different lives. There’s the boring old me, and there’s my lively self on Facebook.
When I saw Mark Zuckerberg’s face on the Time Magazine with an option to delete Facebook plastered on his mouth, I thought of “The Matrix” and its red and blue pills.
In a world where machines reign supreme over humanity, where people are made to live fictional lives inside their heads, one is given a choice. The blue pill means an idyllic and happy life inside a simulation, and the red means accepting reality as it is and rising up to fight. In the 1999 film, Neo chose red.
In a way, Facebook is another Matrix. The food on a dish might not taste as well as the satisfaction brought by the likes and shares on its photo. A trip is remembered not by its moments, but the congratulatory messages from one’s friends’ list.
So I ask myself: Am I willing to trade my real life for a virtual one?
Last year, a docudrama called “The Social Dilemma” came out, which depicted how social media could manipulate one’s views, emotions and behaviors. Most people are already aware of that on some level. Social media and search engines can convert users’ tiniest data points into valuable knowledge of one’s patterns and preferences and turning them into tools for advertisements pitched to the right people at the right time.
Consumers buy products not because they need it, but because the sheer number of times those products show up on their feeds nudges, pushes and convinces them that they do. These subtle, yet powerful persuasions have stirred companies to pour billions into securing users’ data.
Facebook, knowing full well the power it wields, capitalizes on that to grow without limit. But most importantly, through its schemes, the social media giant has also sent a message to its customers: there’s no way to escape its influence.
People are silhouetted as they pose with mobile devices in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo. Photo by Reuters
Once this thought dawned on me, another followed: It takes two to play a game. Sometimes, I intentionally search for things on Google or Facebook, and after a while, products would automatically come to me. By doing that, I’ve been willing to share my personal preferences so I could be best served by the machines on the other side.
I’ve read opinions saying Facebook’s time is up after multiple accusations of illegal data collection, manipulation and spreading misinformation. But legally speaking, is there any way to stop Facebook from doing so for… forever?
Following the “shocking” revelations of former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen, nearly 50 nonprofits have requested a stop to Facebook’s business model. They have asked the U.S. Senate to launch an investigation into Zuckerberg’s company, and through data privacy laws, to end such practices on the world’s largest social media platform. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has also been asked to issue policies banning companies from collecting users’ data outside of what’s needed, and to heavily fine those who sell users’ data without consent.
If it were up to me, it would be a resounding “yes.” But this is something that goes beyond a legal battle to protect customers’ rights. It is the inconvenient question of what we’re willing to give up for a life of “convenience.”
Meaning, are you willing to see how deep the rabbit hole is?
*Bui Phu Chau is a bank employee. The opinions expressed are his own.